Gambling is when you risk something of value — like money, possessions or time — in an attempt to predict the outcome of a game of chance. Psychiatrically, gambling can become problematic when it starts to interfere with someone’s life and lead to addiction or other mental health issues. The good news is that there are effective treatments to help people with gambling problems, including therapy and medications.
In the past, psychiatry viewed pathological gambling as a type of impulse control disorder, similar to kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (incense-burning) and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). However, in a move that’s been hailed as a milestone, the American Psychiatric Association recently moved pathological gambling into the chapter on addictions. This shift reflects new understanding of the biological basis of gambling addiction, and it’s already changing the way psychiatrists treat people with this condition.
Many people gamble for social reasons, such as to have fun with friends or because it makes a gathering more interesting. They may also play for financial reasons, such as to win money or because they enjoy thinking about what they would do with a big jackpot win. They may even find that the gambling activity gives them a rush or high, similar to drugs and alcohol.
Depending on the individual, it can be difficult to recognize when their gambling is out of control. This is especially true for people whose culture views gambling as a normal pastime, which can make it harder to recognize that there’s a problem.
Some people who struggle with gambling may start to lie about how much time and money they’re spending on it or hide evidence of their gambling activity. This can be a sign that they are in denial about the problem, and it’s important to seek professional help when you start to feel that your gambling is out of control.
There are many causes of gambling problems. Some are genetic, and research shows that certain brain regions are linked to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. Other factors include stress, depression and anxiety. The most common treatment for gambling disorders includes behavioural therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches patients to recognize and resist unwanted thoughts and habits. In some cases, medications such as benzodiazepines or anti-depressants may be prescribed to help reduce cravings.
Gambling is a huge industry, and it’s important to support responsible gambling practices. There are several ways to do this: only gamble with money that you can afford to lose; set a limit on how much you’ll spend and for how long you’ll gamble; don’t chase your losses; and always know the odds of winning. And, remember, if you’re gambling, it’s best to do so legally and in a licensed casino. This will help protect you from fraud and other legal issues. It will also help to ensure that the money you’re betting on goes to support responsible gambling initiatives, and not into the pockets of criminals or gangsters. This is the only way to guarantee that the gambling industry stays a legitimate and beneficial part of society.